Prague, 26 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Much Western press commentary today and over the weekend focuses on the United States' shifting policy towards Russia and China. Other commentators examine what many consider the weekend's largely ineffectual summit of European Union leaders in Stockholm.
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:
A commentary in the International Herald Tribune criticizes the U.S. government's decision to expel some 50 Russian diplomats, seeing it as proof that a Cold War mentality prevails among Washington's current foreign policy-makers -- notably, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Ivo Daalder and Fiona Hill, both fellows at the Washington-based Brookings Institution think-tank, write: "It is as if someone pushed the pause button in the early 1990s when these officials last left office. [But] while the tape may have paused, the world did not and Russia has moved forward in fundamental ways." They add: "Russian policy today is carefully calculated from a position of weakness to maximize economic advantage as well as enhance security. [The Bush administration,] in emphasizing weapons, spies and traditional security issues in its bilateral relations with Russia, is trying to transpose yesterday's agenda into tomorrow's world. That misses the point."
Commentator Peter Preston writes in Britain's Guardian daily that the United States' spy-clearing last week was a minor news event sending one primary message: "Moscow doesn't matter. [It] is too broke and chaotic and indigent to matter. Therefore, [Europe doesn't] matter either." Preston says the real news was Rumsfeld's preview last week of U.S. defense strategy, which indicates that "the Pentagon is reprioritizing its threat list. [China] -- a burgeoning economy as well as a nation -- is at the heart of fresh thinking." He adds: "[Europe] should be alarmed, because the outing of the Chinese obsessions shows what national missile defense is really all about: not neutering Pyongyang, but blocking and humiliating Beijing. Why else stoke Taiwan tension now with a new missile radar system?" Preston adds: "Alarm alone makes poor policy."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:
Another commentary in the International Herald Tribune looks at what the authors call "the danger ahead" in U.S.-China relations. Patrick Cronin and Emily Metzgar of the U.S. Institute of Peace write that it has yet to be clarified "what the Bush administration thinks China is. This leaves a vacuum to be filled by events like China's denial that its technicians upgraded Iraq's air defense system and last week's visit to Washington by Deputy Prime Minister Qian Qichen of China." They go on: "[Beijing] lacks a clear sense of the Bush administration's China policy and is not happy about what it has seen thus far." But they add: "Both governments must prevent a single issue, such as arms sales or human rights, from dominating the bilateral agenda."
WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
An editorial in the Wall Street Journal Europe dismisses the weekend's Stockholm summit of European Union leaders as an opportunity for major change wasted on trifles. The paper says: "[The] summit was held in Scandinavia's biggest convention center and held hostage by the smallest of complaints." It points, among other things, to Spain's objection that an airport in the tiny British territory of Gibraltar may have illegally encroached on Spanish soil -- a complaint which single-handedly ended summit talks on a continent-wide air-traffic liberalization. The paper says: "Speedy liberalization is exactly what Europe needs if it is ever going to become 'the most competitive economy in the world by 2010,' as was so loftily announced at the Lisbon summit last year. But for many summit participants it remains easier to say [no] for provincial reasons." The paper adds: "The summit's only real achievement, a single market in financial services, was actually negotiated on the eve of the summit in a private meeting of finance ministers."
An editorial in the Irish Times likewise finds little to applaud about the EU summit. The paper calls the creation of the single financial services market "welcome," but says: "Without agreement on the liberalization of gas, electricity or postal services, or the creation of an EU open skies framework, the summit sends mixed signals to the markets." The editorial continues: "[The EU's] policy of combining support for Macedonia's territorial integrity with strong pressure in favor of political dialogue will require the most determined approach if it is to succeed." It also says: "The summit was able to offer little in the way of extra resources to tackle the foot-and-mouth emergency. [It] falls largely to national governments to put the necessary preventative measures in place."
Two comments in the Washington Post consider U.S. policy in the Balkans. The first, an editorial, says last week's Washington visit by Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and his plea for continued U.S. economic aid puts the Bush administration in a difficult situation. The paper writes: "Despite many announcements of his imminent arrest, former president Slobodan Milosevic still is living comfortably in his Belgrade villa. [At least] seven prominent indicted war criminals now live freely in the country [as well]." It adds: "Mr. Djindjic and his government clearly seem dedicated to making Yugoslavia a pro-Western democracy and are worthy of support. [But] the United States should not deliver financial aid to Yugoslavia while Mr. Milosevic and other war criminals walk the streets of Belgrade."
Commentator Peter Maass, the author of a memoir of the Bosnian conflict, writes in the Washington Post that in the Balkans the United States has followed a "Do as I say and not as I do" policy. He writes: "The U.S. government, in the past decade, has a spotty record of honoring its commitments and obligations in the Balkans, and this has contributed to the region's continuing instability. [The] reluctance to do the hard work on the ground has hobbled the U.S.-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo," where ethnic Albanian extremists are now supplying fellow extremists in Macedonia with arms and manpower. Maass writes: "Stopping the flow of men and material is difficult and dangerous, but when NATO took control of Kosovo, it accepted the responsibility for making sure the province would not be used as a staging ground for terrorism or insurrection."
WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
Max Boot, in the Wall Street Journal Europe, comments in a similar vein, saying the West will be to blame if the containable Macedonian conflict is allowed to escalate and destroy the Balkans' tenuous peace. He writes: "It is easy to blame the European Union for the inaction [of NATO troops in Kosovo]. But the EU, for all its brave talk of fielding its own armed forces, remains a declawed, emasculated beast. Its statesmen know how to flap their gums, not how to confront men with guns." Boot adds: "As for the American deployment to Kosovo -- Task Force Falcon -- its prime objective, as always when U.S. troops are sent abroad these days, is to incur no casualties. [Counter-insurgency] warfare cannot be waged in the Pentagon's preferred style -- from 15,000 feet."
NEW YORK TIMES:
The New York Times in an editorial writes that Kofi Annan's candidacy for a second five-year term as secretary-general of the United Nations is "welcome" and worthy of "strong endorsement." The paper says that Annan, whose first term expires on December 31, has "emerged as a voice of conscience on a variety of international issues, especially the problems of Africa and the fight against AIDS. He [has also] commissioned tough reviews of past UN peacekeeping failures in Rwanda and Bosnia, even though he led the peacekeeping department during those operations." The paper adds: "If given a second term, Mr. Annan must strengthen the understaffed peacekeeping department while continuing to curb patronage and wasteful spending elsewhere in the UN bureaucracy."